Reading Filipina migrant workers in Hong Kong : tracing a feminist and cultural politics of transformation

  • Aida Jean MANIPON

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


For Filipino migrant workers , the journey overseas in search of contractual employment marks a profound turning point in their lives. It registers the crossing of spatial and cultural borders that leads to the shifting of terrains from which they make sense of their selves and the world of ‘others.’ It signifies a rupture in time that alters their sense of history, giving shape to new vantage points from which they reflect on the past and project an imagination of future. This research explores the question of how Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong make sense of their experiences as ‘migrant women’, and how they might articulate a consciousness of themselves as gendered subjects in history. The study begins with a documentation of the personal histories of five Filipina women, as told in their own words and as reconstructed into written text, and offers a reading of the narratives, tracing the ways in which they make sense of their experiences as women migrant workers, wives, mothers, daughters, and diasporic citizens of a nation state. Through this process of reading and narrativizing the life histories of Filipina domestic workers, this thesis hopes to contribute to an understanding of how their gendered subjectivities are formed, shaped and changed over time.

The life histories, though diverse, give voice to a shared and collective experience – a familiar story of poverty, family crises, diaspora, encounter with cultural difference and subjection to difficult working conditions. Together they are the hidden threads that form the underside of the grand narratives of ‘nation’, development, modernization, and globalization. It is against this backdrop that family crises would push five women -- Mader Irma, Gina, Esther, Miriam, and Rosario -- to enter a particularly difficult type of employment which would render them as part of Hong Kong’s invisible ‘others.’ While their journey was primarily an act of love/duty to the family, the experience of migration would eventually reinvent the meaning of ‘wife’, ‘mother’‘daughter,’ ‘worker’ ‘subaltern intellectual’ and ‘activist.’

To foreground the narratives of life histories, two chapters in the first part of this thesis are devoted to a brief review of the historical contexts in Hong Kong and the Philippines that gave rise to the current migration phenomenon. The chapters also trace the ways by which the ‘Filipina domestic helper’ is positioned and interpellated in discourse, as ‘ban mui’, ‘new heroes’ and ‘spectral presences’ in the nation. Migrant domestic workers straddle two life/worlds, always the inside-outsider/outside-insider, and in this ambiguous in-between space they carve out new identities and struggle to exercise agency.

This research contributes to an understanding of the affective/subjective dimensions of migration by presenting ways of ‘narrating’ and ‘reading’ women’s experiences. It also demonstrates the usefulness of intellectual resources offered by feminist and cultural studies in interrogating the conditions of Hong Kong’s ‘social others’ and identifying issues around which an agenda for transformational politics might be explored.
Date of Award2004
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University

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